Let’s admit it: Google I/O is boring this year.
I know! I’m here! It’s boring!
To put things in perspective, last year, Google announced a new universal design language, an overhaul of Android built on that language, an array of wearables jumping Apple to market, and even a way to turn any Android smartphone into a virtual reality headset with just a cheap cardboard rig. This year? Google announced slight incremental improvements to Material Design, Android, Android Wear, and Google Cardboard.
The most revolutionary thing Google announced in a 2.5-hour keynote was Google Photos, an app that largely repackages the photo technology Google+ has quietly been offering users for years. Heck, even the swag is boring: spoiled last year with two top-of-the-line smartwatches, this year’s I/O 2015 attendees will receive the 6-month-old Nexus 9 tablet, which received middling reviews, and a slightly improved version of the cardboard box they gave attendees last year.
So yes, it’s boring here.
But you know what?
It just means Google’s finally doing things right.
Whether you’re a journalist or you’re just someone reading the news, you’re always looking for the next revolution. Revolutions are exciting; they upheave everything. If you’re a journalist, like me, tech revolutions can give you a year’s worth of stories: look how much mileage we’ve gotten out of Material Design.
But revolutions are also an indication that things are broken. That a drastic fix is needed. And they’re bad for business, because disruption is bad for business…unless you’re the disruptor. And when you’re Google, which has an ecosystem of hundreds of thousands of app developers who depend on stability and predictability, you don’t want to be the disruptor. You’ve become the status quo.
The thing is, Google’s not broken anymore. Not the way it once was. Android’s not just a viable iOS alternative, it’s arguably better designed, and starting to pull ahead in important metrics like revenue. Material Design, meanwhile, has given Google and developers a consistent, universal language to design beautiful, modern apps on any platform. Google’s collection of apps and services no longer look like they were designed by color-blind mutants with varying degrees of macular degeneration. These days, you can make a case that the worst of them is better designed than the most beautiful Apple app.
Google I/O is boring this year because Google’s platforms have become more mature, more self-assured. No wonder I/0 2015’s coolest developments are either moonshots like Project Jacquard, weirdo accessibility projects like the Exii prosthetic limb, or apps like Google Photos that better expose Google’s existinct capabilities. Sure, there’s a few areas where Google is still catching up — for example, Android Pay, Google’s alternative to Apple Pay. But for the most part, the problems have all been solved.
Google’s largely solved the web. It’s largely solved mobile. It’s largely solved app design. And it’s getting there on wearables. Now it gets to reap the rewards.
Here’s the truth about the human experience. Things that aren’t broken are boring. It’s why all our heroes have demons, all the lovers we lust for are damaged, and why the systems that work remain 99% invisible to us.
For the first time since the conference started in 2008, Google I/O was boring.
And that’s okay, because it means it’s not broken.